HUDSON -- For many in Hudson, The Phipps and John Potter are inextricably linked. He has been a part of the center for nearly its entire life, stepping in as director a couple years after it opened.
Now, after 35 years, he is retiring on July 31.
It was Potter’s theater professor, Lee Adey, who first brought Potter to The Phipps Center for the Arts. Adey served as the first director of the center, and after taking a sabbatical, suggested Potter apply for the position in 1985.
“And I was lucky enough to be selected,” he said.
Potter had visited the center before. He liked the diversity of the programming, and the size of the center as well.
“It’s all the things that still make it appealing today,” Potter said. “Really I think it was the variety of the programming and the fact that this small community had the wherewithal to build an arts center. The desire, I should say, more than the wherewithal.”
Those are the same things that led him to dedicate 35 years to the center.
In that time, The Phipps has doubled in size, literally. In 1992, an expansion to the First Street building added the galleries, Black Box Theater, scene shop and studios.
The programming has grown as well, both in the performing arts and the visual arts. The Phipps Festival Chorus developed, as well as three dance companies, the Healing Arts program with local hospitals and the Enriching Arts Program with Croixdale and Woodland Hill.
“Every year we’ve grown in some way, be it performing arts, visual arts or trying something new,” Potter said.
The Phipps has always been a place to try out new things, he added.
Potter helped foster that environment, said Anastasia Shartin, visual arts director at The Phipps.
“One of the things I appreciate most is his support and trust in what sometimes were maybe less conventional ideas that maybe I had or the Visual Arts Council had,” she said. “He would always ask, and always has asked, very helpful and constructive questions.”
Looking back, it is rewarding to see, Potter said. While there were mistakes along the way and programming decisions that didn’t fly, there were far more that did.
“I would say for the most part I’m glad we tried everything we did try, even if it didn’t work,” he said.
One of his goals over the years was to develop family-friendly programming. The center has been successful at that, with most offerings appealing to the entire family.
He also tried to create varied programming that would attract everyone, so that a person would find at least one program a year that would bring them to The Phipps.
In addition to serving as executive director, Potter directed and produced plays — 33 in total. With an MFA in acting, Potter said he enjoys working with actors and mounting a show.
“The rehearsal process is just as rewarding, if not more rewarding, for me than the performance,” he said.
Though his time as executive director is coming to an end, he hopes to continue directing shows in the future.
Picking out moments from a 35-year career is not easy to do, but the success of annual fund campaigns and capital campaigns will always stick out to Potter, as well as the increased quality of productions. The joy of the patrons, too, is a strong memory for him.
“When folks come here anticipating to have a good time and to enjoy themselves, and then at intermission and when they leave are so happy that they’ve been here and that they had the experience that they had, that’s just terrific,” he said.
Potter’s lasting impact on The Phipps will be one of stability, Shartin said. His leadership has helped the organization weather many storms, including the current pandemic, and become a meaningful and integral part of the community.
Many people have told her that they decided to move to Hudson because of The Phipps.
“If a community could support an organization like The Phipps, then it was a place they could belong and make their home,” she said. “So I think that that is a real tribute to John and his belief in the role, the really important role, that the arts play in our lives.”
The Phipps Center President Sue Gherty likened Potter to the man behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz.” He transformed The Phipps into the renowned center it is today, and his influence brought Phipps productions to a phenomenal quality level, she said in a news release.
“I am so grateful for the lifetime of dedication John has given to The Phipps Center and the Hudson community,” she said. “Like William H. Phipps himself, John Potter legacy will live on for generations.”
For Potter, the lasting impact comes from the people he met and worked with along the way -- funders, board members, staff, volunteers, artists, patrons.
“Literally hundreds of people,’ he said with a laugh.
After so much time, he’s grown roots here.
“It’s the pleasure and rewards of being part of this family,” he said.
It is the people he will miss the most after retirement.
“But I would hope I still see them,” he said. “I will still be part of the community, and I would hope to still be part of The Phipps.”